Northern Economist 2.0

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Another Look at Northern Ontario Economic Activity...And the Pictures are Not Pretty

When looking at trends in the northern Ontario economy, we often look at evidence on population growth, unemployment rates, personal incomes or employment creation.  Well, here is another indicator courtesy of Statistics Canada Table 11-001 - Summary of charitable donors, annual.  Now this data is on charitable contributions and provides information on the value of donations (more on that in a later post) but it also provides data on the number of taxfilers by jurisdiction.

Why is the number of taxfilers an interesting number?  If your economy is growing and there is substantial economic activity, more people are either working or setting up businesses and income is being generated and by extension the number of income tax taxfilers should be going up. So what do the numbers look like?

Figure 1 presents the number of income tax taxfilers for Thunder Bay and Sudbury from 1997 to 2015 and for Sault Ste. Marie, North Bay and Timmins for the period 2008 to 2015 (which is what is available),  Needless to say, things look a little flat in these northern Ontario cities especially compared to Ontario as a whole in Figure 2 which has seen steady growth in the number of taxfilers despite having a fairly moribund economy until just a couple of years ago.




Figure 3 provides the percent change for these northern Ontario cities and Ontario as a whole for the period of commonly available numbers spanning the years 2008 to 2015.  The number of taxfilers has shrunk in four out of the five cities - only Thunder Bay has managed a slight increase.  North Bay shrank by -0.3 percent and Sudbury by -0.5 percent which is rather modest compared to Timmins and the Sault.  The number of taxfilers in Timmins shrank by 3.1 percent and the Sault by 2.6 percent.   Thunder Bay, on the other hand registered a very miniscule increase of one tenth of one percent. Ontario as a whole saw an increase of 9.2 percent in the number of taxfilers between 2008 and 2015.



So - more evidence of the blatantly obvious I suppose.  Growth in northern Ontario's economy has essentially come to a halt.   Given the coming provincial election, it will be entertaining to say the least to watch how the three party leaders handle the issue.



Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Does Economic Performance Actually Matter in Northern Ontario?

In my last post, I made mention of the recent Conference Board of Canada Reports that presented current evidence and forecasts of economic activity for the cities of Thunder Bay, Sudbury, Timmins and Sault Ste. Marie.  The evidence suggested a rather sluggish economy though an upcoming webinar by the Conference Board argues that resource dependent communities such as those in northern Ontario are starting to rebound from the two-year downturn sparked by the decline in commodity prices.  This would certainly be the case in the more mining intensive northern Ontario communities.

However, based on the Conference Board Reports to date I think a more comparative analysis of some of the key indicators is useful particularly because of the story they seem to tell.  Along with Thunder Bay, Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie and Timmins, the numbers are also presented for Ontario and Canada.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Economic News Around the North: August 15th Edition

We are in mid-August and the summer is drawing to a close.  The economic news has been pretty slow in northern Ontario.  Here are the stories of economic significance to northern Ontario over the last week or so.  They are mainly focused on the Conference Board Reports which were issued in late July and early August and that show the northern Ontario economy is not growing as fast as either Ontario or Canada.

Thunder Bay economy advances "sluggishly".  Tbnewswatch, August 9th, 2017.

Incidentally, Netnewsledger in Thunder Bay ran this story August 3rd (and was reported in my last northern Ontario economic news post.) I suppose narrative is everything.  According to the Conference Board Report in the above story, real GDP in Thunder Bay will rise 0.2 per cent in 2017 and 0.9 percent in 2018 following a 0.2 per cent increase in 2016.  Compare this to the Canadian economy which is expected to grow 2.3 per cent in 2017 and just under 2 percent in 2018.  Ontario is forecast to surge at 2.3 percent in 2017 but then scales back to 1.8 per cent in 2018.  Real GDP growth in Thunder Bay is forecast at below 1 per cent until 2021,  Yet, apparently life in Thunder Bay goes on with personal income per capita expected to grow at greater than 3 per cent from 2018 to 2021.  While the overall economy is not growing, having 30 percent of your employment in the broader public sector is lending a certain punch to average personal incomes.

Meanwhile in Sudbury, the Conference Board projects real GDP will grow at 1.2 percent in 2017 and 1.0 percent in 2018 but real GDP growth over the period 2018 to 2021 is also not expected to top 1 percent.  Yet, the narrative in Sudbury is a little different.

Sudbury to grow in 2017: Conference Board. Thesudburystar.com. August 4th, 2017.

In other Sudbury economic news:

Vale looking at layoffs in Sudbury. Thesudburystar.com. August 12th, 2017.

In terms of the size of Vale's economic footprint in Sudbury: "Vale operates five mines in Sudbury, as well as a mill, a smelter, a refinery and employs nearly 4,000 workers. It mines nickel, copper, cobalt, platinum group metals, gold and silver."

Timmins and the Sault also made their way into the Conference Board's Mid-Sized Cities Outlook and the report forecast real GDP in the Sault to grow 0.6 percent in 2017 and for Timmins to grow 1.4 percent in 2017.  Of the four cities covered in these Conference Board Reports it would appear that Timmins is doing the best with the manufacturing sector as well as the primary and utilities sectors driving growth.  Thunder Bay is forecast to grow the least. 

Timmins ready for economic growth says Conference Board of Canada. timminspress.com, July 27, 2017.

Sault growth behind that of Ontario, Canada. saultstar.com. July 28th, 2017.

So what about North Bay?  Well, no Conference Board Report for them.  They are neither a "big" northern CMA like Thunder Bay or Sudbury or a "Mid Size" city like Sault Ste. Marie and Timmins.  I'm sure that North Bay at least self-identifies as a Mid-Sized city and I wish to state that I consider North Bay one of the northern urban league of  five - the N5 as I sometimes like to refer to them.  

Still, here is an item of interest regarding the employment impact in northern Ontario - particularly North Bay -of an Electricity Trading Agreement entered into last fall with Quebec by the Ontario government.

Fedeli request leads to FAO probe on Ontario-Quebec Power deal. BayToday.ca. August 11th, 2017.

And another page in the inexorable march of retail change in the north:

Self-checkout threat to local jobs very real, labour warns. Nugget.ca, August 5th, 2017.


Enjoy the rest of the summer.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

North's CMAs Sluggish When it Comes to Building Permits

The June 2017 building permit numbers from Statistics Canada are out today and they show that the total value of building permits rose in six provinces in June, led by Quebec and Manitoba. Meanwhile, permits were up in 14 of 36 census metropolitan areas (CMAs), led by Toronto, MontrĂ©al and Winnipeg with Hamilton reporting the largest decline in June (-60.0%).

The year to year results (June 2016 to June 2017) are shown in the accompanying figure for Canada's CMAs.  All CMAs grew 24.3 percent. They range from a high of 172 percent for Halifax to a low of -81 percent for Moncton.  As for Thunder Bay and Sudbury, they both show a negative performance with -2.7 percent for Thunder Bay and -4 percent for Greater Sudbury.




This building permit report comes in the wake of Conference Board Reports showing that these two cities have sluggish economies. However, with respect to building permits in Ontario they are not doing as badly as Hamilton, Windsor, Peterborough or St. Catharines.  Another intriguing result is the Ottawa area where Ottawa/Gatineau shows annual growth of 13.7 percent but the Gatineau part is at -12.7 percent and the Ottawa part grew at 18.9 percent.

Friday, 4 August 2017

Living With Mom and Dad in Ontario: North & South 2016 Census Results


Statistics Canada released its 2016 Families, Households andMarital Status Results for the 2016 Census on August 2nd and the results show that proportionally fewer households are composed of a 'mom, dad and kids' family and more people are either living alone, or as part of a couple without children, or as part of a multi-generational family. However, the other interesting result was that the proportion of adults aged 20 to 34 living with parents was 34.7 percent and has been increasing since 2001 when it was 30.6 percent.  It is both a northern and southern Ontario phenomenon.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Economic News Around the North: August 3rd, 2017 Edition

Well, we are about to start a long weekend so why not stock up on some reading material related to the northern Ontario economy.  To start off, a couple of big picture items with important implications both economically and politically.

Why Canada would be directly in the way of a North Korean nuclear war. National Post. August 3rd, 2017.

It turns out the world is round after all and the shortest route to the United States from North Korea is a curve and the curve takes North Korean missiles right over Canada on their way to destinations like New York or Denver.  Looking at the map on this story carefully and one can see that the way to Chicago comes pretty close to Thunder Bay.  One wonders if the North Koreans are aware that Thunder Bay (actually the twin Lakehead cities of Fort William and Port Arthur) once styled itself as the up and coming  "Chicago of the North".  Hopefully, the North Koreans have updated their intelligence and will not get Thunder Bay confused with Chicago - not that it will really matter much if we head off into global thermonuclear war.  Where is President Trump's "Wall" when we really need it? I guess, we should all just move to Australia and hang out "On the Beach" with Nevil Shute.

Here in the north, we might want to use our enhanced political clout to get the Ontario government to take on North Korea. However, another story in the National Post is not too taken with the potential for two more northern Ontario riding.

Josh Dehaas: Ontario Liberals plans for two new ridings could violate the Charter and cost PCs the election, National Post, August 3rd, 2017.

In other news:

Thunder Bay Economy Sluggish-Conference Board of Canada. NetNewsLedger, August 3rd, 2017.

Personally, I think sluggish as a description of Thunder Bay's recent economic performance is a bit of an understatement.  However, there does appear to be a fair amount of recent hotel, condo and apartment construction so obviously all things considered a lot of people want to live in Thunder Bay either permanently or temporarily despite the economy and the bad national publicity.  The Economics Department at Lakehead just hired a new colleague so there is another addition to the local population (4 if you include family).  Welcome back to Lakehead Karl & family!

New $15 million plant opens in Timmins. Sudbury Star, July 20, 2017.

It is heavy industry tied to the mining sector.   A  Timmins-based speciality plant called The Bucket Shop for the creation and manufacture of custom heavy equipment buckets for front-end loaders, scoop trams, excavators and even dozer blades for mining and construction industries.  If you are in Timmins, put a visit to it on your bucket list.

Which way Sault Ste Marie? Northern Ontario Business. August 2nd, 2017.

Tom Dodds resigns from EDC.  Sault Star, August 1st, 2017.

Well, things are economically uncertain in the Sault so it is time for a new strategic approach to economic development. According to the story: " Under the new organizational flowchart, the EDC will handle business retention, attraction and expansion; export opportunities, infrastructure development, and tourism. The Innovation Centre will oversee technology and innovation development, provide support for tech companies and start-ups, run the Community Geomatics Centre, and handle special projects like the lottery and gaming initiatives, energy projects, and agricultural opportunities. The municipality, itself, has set up a Community Development Fund and will steer the development of a strategic plan, handle community promotion, arts and culture development and work on the labour front to attract newcomers and bring home ex-pats."

As an economist, restructuring your economic development approach is more of a political gesture designed to convey concern for the economy as economic fundamentals for the Sault like much of the north remain the same.  Still, I am not running for office and if I were I guess I would accept the need to look proactive.

If you are marketing your local economy, this is not good:

Sudbury lands 8th on list of bed-bug ridden cities. CBC Sudbury, August 1st, 2017.

Sault Ste. Marie came in 23rd out of 25.  For once, Thunder Bay did not make this type of list.

Sudbury is getting a new events center (not in the downtown) and an economist even suggests how it will be paid for - by taxpayers.

Robinson: how we'll pay for the events centre.  Sudbury Star. July 24th, 2017.

And as for the goings on in North Bay:

The hard numbers behind North Bay's population decline. BayToday.ca, August 2nd, 2017.

Well, that is all for this edition of  Economic News Around the North.  By the way, here is a great Pan Northern Link for news in general. Have a great long weekend!